If you want to buy a toy as a gift, it is a good idea to have a better-informed conversation with the parents when deciding what to buy. It’s important to make sure your gift is age-appropriate. Different stages of the child’s development are best suited to certain types of toys. Toys are not all “bad” for kids by any means – but it’s necessary to do some research to make sure you’re getting the right kind of toy that will be the right fit for where the child is in their growth and development.
Birth to 6 months old
Most child development experts agree that toys are good for babies. The reason? Babies are learning about the world all the time, with all of their senses, and toys can help babies learn about shapes, textures, sound, colour and other aspects of the natural world.
The best toys for infants include textured toys that are safe for the child to chew on (such as teething rings), brightly coloured toys with rattles and noises that the baby can reach for and grab onto, and textured toys that are fun for the baby to touch and feel.
Most baby toys are designed to be safe for use in cribs and playpens, but still it’s important to be careful and safety-conscious: don’t buy toys that could lead to dangerous entanglements or present a choking or strangulation hazard. Never hang toys in the crib, playpen, stroller or infant seat, and do not give a baby toys that could be wrapped around the child’s neck with string, elastic or ribbons.
6 months to 1 year old
During this stage of growth, babies are getting better at motor skills such as sitting up, crawling, holding things in their hands, and manipulating things with their fingers. Babies this age often want toys that they can handle, drop, open and shut, pick up, stack, and knock down. Toys that can move along with the baby – such as miniature lawn mowers or shopping baskets – or playsets where the baby can stand up with the help of the toy (such as musical keyboards to make noise on, or tunnels to crawl through) are very good for this age.
1 year to 2 years old
By this stage, children are getting better at exploring the world, and will have higher energy for walking, climbing and riding. Toys for kids this age should help stimulate a sense of experimentation and encourage the beginning of life skill development, such as little kitchen sets where the kids can learn about cooking and other “grown up” activities.
2 to 3 years old
Toddlers this age are getting better at jumping, throwing, climbing and other physical skills – so they need toys that are designed for active play. Good toys for this group include puppets, puzzles, blocks, and art supplies. Children this age will be doing more imaginative play.
3 to 6 years old
Children this age will start to play with each other, instead of doing independent “parallel play” like when they were younger. Preschoolers and older kids often love to play imaginary games and act out various roles – this is a great age to buy costumes and props. Kids might have a special favourite stuffed animal or doll. Toys that let kids create things and make inventions are also popular at this age, such as Legos, Snap Circuits, and other creative toys.
Don’t Follow Stereotypes – Buy Gender Neutral Toys
Another pet peeve for many parents is when people tend to buy overly “gendered” toys for their kids. Just because parents have boys or girls does not mean that all of their toys have to be geared toward the mass media’s stereotypical vision of what “boys like” or what “girls like.” The truth is, kids today are being raised in a more diverse and open environment where girls and boys are encouraged to explore whatever interests them. Girls like cars, and boys like dolls – it is OK! You might find that the little boys in your family are big fans of My Little Pony, and that the girls like to play with toy cars and trucks – or both!
Care about Their Future – Give Money for School Fund
Another option is to spend less money on toys altogether, and put your money into a place where it can do the most good for the child’s long-term future. According to this article in the Huffington Post, 72 percent of Canadian parents are planning to put money into a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), and 79 percent of Canadian parents say they do not feel pressure to buy the latest gadgets for their kids. Perhaps instead of spending money today on toys, put it into an education savings fund – and that money will be worth much more to the child in the future than any long-forgotten toy.
Giving gifts is an act of love. Do not feel bad if your idea for a great new toy is met with some hesitation by the child’s parents. Instead, look for ways to compromise and collaborate on choosing a gift that will really be helpful and create a positive addition to the child’s life. Remember: the child and her parents want to spend time with you and enjoy a close-knit, happy family. In the final analysis, your time and presence are the greatest gifts of all.
What was the best gift that someone ever gave your child? Why was it so special? Please share your thoughts or join the conversation at the Medela Canada Facebook page.